Books: Survival in the Suburbs

Chang-rae Lee's Aloft is a meditation on love and death among the lush lawns of Long Island

Novelists right now are kind of like French painters in the 19th century. Back then you had your ultra-smooth academic perfectionists--your Ingres, your David--on one side, painting pictures so slick, they look as if they have been freshly buffed and polyurethaned. Then along came the Impressionists, with their rough-textured, gnarly, worked-looking canvases. Among contemporary fiction writers we have purveyors of lapidary, polished, M.F.A.-perfect prose--John Updike, Alice Munro--and on the other side, a grab bag of avant-gardists (like David Foster Wallace), witty pyrotechnicians (Jonathan Franzen) and operatic monologists (Toni Morrison) who fling words upon the page in heavy, meaningful daubs. Now, just...

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